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The Review - FEATURE
Published: 3 September 2009
Broadcaster Alex Pascall
Broadcaster Alex Pascall
Fifty years of hard work and hope

Broadcaster Alex Pascall tells Peter Gruner how his half-century as a migrant
in London, began with dangerous
encounters with knife-wielding
Teddy Boys

ONE of Britain’s best-known black commentators, Alex Pascall, remembers the night he was set upon by a gang of 20 Teddy Boys waving flick knifes outside a club in Holloway.
Broadcaster Alex, 73, from Finsbury Park, who received the OBE in 1996 for services to community relations, was looking back over 50 years of experiences as a Grenadian immigrant in Britain.
Teddy Boys, with their trademark quiffed and greased-back hair and drainpipe trousers, formed gangs in the 1950s, whose activities included terrorising newly arrived immigrants from the West Indies.
Alex was leaving the Amaza club opposite Holloway Tube station, where he’d been singing and playing the bongo drums, when he was attacked.
“I thought I was going to die,” he says. “These 20 young men brandishing their knives came towards me and there was no escape.
“Suddenly a taxi driver – a white man – stopped and shouted to me: ‘Hey, you! Get in quick’. I threw my bongos in the back of the cab and dived in after them.
“He drove like mad and after dropping me off in nearby Axminster Road, where I was staying, refused my offer of payment. He said a couple of West Indians had saved him once from a beating.”
Being one of a new wave of “coloured” people in London helped shape the groundbreaking BBC Black London radio programme in 1974, which he fronted for 14 years.
“It began once a month, then once a week and within a couple of years we were broadcasting every day,” he says.
The programme was given special prominence in the aftermath of the Moorgate Tube disaster in 1975 when 43 passengers died and 70 were injured.
The driver of the Highbury branch of the Northern Line drove his train into a wall.
“I was able to tap into my special knowledge as a former London Underground worker and Tube train driver,” Alex says.
Being chairman of the new Notting Hill Carnival for four years from 1984 was a sharp learning curve, but an exhausting period.
“It was always under threat from the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who wanted to pull the plug,” he says. “They were quite happy about the money it brought in but didn’t want the other problems. And nothing has changed on that score.”
Things may have changed for the better for black people in Britain, but there is still a long way to go. “I’ll never forget arriving as a 22-year-old and finding little things upsetting,” Alex recalls.
“People wouldn’t say hello without giving you a frozen embalmed smile. It was if you were from another planet.”
Married with two grown-up children, Alex believes the new generation of blacks must never forget the sacrifices and suffering of the early immigrants.
“I remember sitting huddled up in my attic room in Holloway and surrounding myself with comforting smells of the Caribbean,” he says.
“I had brought with me bottles of white rum, balls of cocoa, cinnamon and cloves which helped to expel the frowsy London air and paraffin fumes.
“One morning I was awakened by a flatmate who was concerned that she hadn’t heard me leave for work.
“Apparently the gas was leaking from the main meter in the room as I slept and I was on the point of unconsciousness.”
Today, with Obama as American President, Alex believes the world is a much better place, although Britain is very slow to change.
“I don’t think we’ll see a British Obama in my life-time,” he says. “There’s still a class structure and just not enough black people going into politics.
“But I’m optimistic – a river flows in different directions, but it finally goes to the sea.”

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